Some Principles for Principals

I have been blessed with administrative support for our broadcast journalism efforts the last 29 years at Hillcrest. Our “HTV Magazine” kids have covered anything and everything they wanted to cover on our monthly show. That does not happen everywhere.

I know teachers in journalism programs across the country who are restricted by their district, or their school administrators, and that can end up forcing a promising broadcast program to basically stand in place year after year. It has a chilling effect on journalism students when they are not allowed to act like journalists.

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Here are some things I think can lead to better, more dynamic journalism, if principals will get on board:

*Never require or expect student journalists to do PR for the school or the district. Guess what? If they become strong journalists, they will bring a lot of community support to your school anyway because they will earn the respect of your patrons.

*Give kids ownership of the broadcast program. Do not give them your expectations. Let them figure it out, name it, claim it, and then watch it fly.

*Support your student journalists as much as you do other programs. How? Remind, even require teachers to share student programming in class, or during a specified time like home room. Just running videos on a monitor in a loud lunch room or commons area is not providing a proper atmosphere for student broadcasts. It’s like having history class in the gym during a basketball game.

*Make sure you encourage your broadcast kids to attend national conferences, where they learn and compete and feel valued. Athletic teams compete all over the state, sometimes all over the country. Your student journalists should get the same opportunity at least once a year.

*Watch their programs and give them feedback. It is a powerful moment when the building principal takes time to view a student-produced show with the kids who produced it. Try it. The give and take and discussion will be very positive, even if there is some constructive criticism. Kids can take it. Feeling like they produce their shows in a vacuum is a far worse feeling.

*Do not overreact if someone voices concerns about a story or a show. Talk to the adviser, and the kids. Do not automatically apologize and then start making rules, or asking to see the show before it airs. Do you ask for the football coach’s game plan the week after he loses a game?

That is my modest list. Food for thought for admins, but I realize they do not read this blog. However, some broadcast teachers do, so I am not letting you off the hook here.

It is much easier for a principal to back a teacher or a program if the journalism on display is done well.

Stories are accurate, objective, thorough and fair. Kids make an effort to be professional. You can not expect a principal to go to bat for you if you continue to produce a weak show rife with spelling or grammatical mistakes, sloppy video and audio quality, unbalanced reporting, immature behavior, things that reveal a lack of effort and expertise.

An atmosphere of trust leads to the best-case scenario, where your broadcast journalism program is student-focused, teacher-led, and principal-supported.